The Formula 1 season has reached its summer break, and the second half of the season is about to start with the Dutch Grand Prix this weekend. There have been many storylines to watch through 12 of 22 races this season, so without further wait, let’s dive straight into my F1 midseason check-in.
Super Max Verstappen
There is only one word to describe the run Max Verstappen is on right now, and that word is dominant. Verstappen has been as close to perfect as one can get as of late, and the numbers back it up. Verstappen has won eight races in a row, and that doesn’t include the two sprint races he won in that span. At one point during this win streak, Verstappen had led for 248 consecutive laps. If Verstappen wins the Dutch Grand Prix this upcoming weekend, he will tie former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel for the most consecutive race wins by a driver (9). It is of note that the Dutch Grand Prix is Verstappen’s home race, and he has won it in two consecutive years.
Red Bull as a team have set a new F1 record, winning thirteen straight races and counting, with Verstappen winning eleven of those races. The previous record for most wins in a row by a constructor was eleven by McLaren in 1988. Also of note is that after the Monaco Grand Prix, when I did the quarter-season check-in, Verstappen had just a 39-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. That lead is now a whopping 125 points, meaning that as long as Verstappen doesn’t forget how to drive, he should be the 2023 Drivers’ Champion. Heck, Red Bull could have Verstappen win the Constructors’ Championship all by himself. He has currently scored 67 more points himself than the entire Mercedes team. Verstappen and Red Bull have been on an incredible stretch, and there’s a good chance it will continue past the summer break.
Welcome Back, Daniel Ricciardo
When Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t find a seat on the 2023 F1 grid, he decided to go back to Red Bull, the team that brought him through their junior program and led him to the highest point of his career. However, he was brought back as Red Bull’s third driver, driving the simulator test-driving the car, but not racing in the grand prix. Yet when AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team, decided to drop Nyck De Vries, fan favorite Ricciardo was placed into the AlphaTauri seat.
Ricciardo has looked decent in his first two races back, running into a little bad luck along the way. But the summer break has likely enabled him to shake off a little more rust and prepare to give AlphaTauri some much needed points. AlphaTauri currently sit at the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship with just three points, as ninth place Alfa Romeo have nine points. The two teams tied for seventh, Haas and Williams, each have eleven points. If Alpha Tauri wants to make a run at getting out of last place, as well as moving as high as seventh in the Constructors’ Championship, they need good and consistent performances from Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda. And I believe they might be able to get that in the second half of the season.
McLaren’s High Flying Performances
Throughout the early part of the season, McLaren seemed to be stuck in the same spot they were in last year, fighting at the top of the midfield. Things have started to shift since my quarter-season check-in though, with a few glimpses of McLaren making a jump. Lando Norris qualified in third at the Spanish Grand Prix, yet McLaren was unable to turn that into a positive result. In Canada, both McLaren drivers finished in the top four in Q2, with Norris in third and Oscar Piastri in fourth. After rainy conditions caused McLaren to struggle in Q3, things started to really turn around for the team in Austria.
Norris qualified in fourth at the Austrian Grand Prix, then qualified in third for the sprint. Norris fell back due to lap one shenanigans during the sprint race, but he finished fourth in the main race. After Austria came the British Grand Prix, the home race for McLaren and Lando Norris. This was McLaren’s true coming out party, as Norris qualified in second and Piastri qualified in third (both behind Max Verstappen). Norris jumped Verstappen at the start of the race and actually led for four laps until Verstappen passed him. It was a great race for McLaren, with Norris finishing second and Piastri finishing fourth. In Hungary, Norris and Piastri qualified in third and fourth respectively, and finished the race in second and fifth. In Belgium, McLaren struggled a bit as they set the car up more for wet running, hoping for rain that eventually didn’t show up. Yet in the sprint race at Spa, Piastri took the first lead of his Formula 1 career.
McLaren have now pulled away from Alpine in the fight for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship, and they could potentially see themselves making up ground on Ferrari or Aston Martin should either of them struggle. It is unlikely that McLaren will overtake either team, but crazier things have happened. McLaren should be extremely competitive from now until the end of the season, and although they may have their weaknesses at certain tracks, they have proven that when they are clicking, they can run at the front of the field, challenge for podiums, and maybe even win a couple races.
Lewis Hamilton Back to His Best
Mercedes hasn’t had the greatest car this year, and they underwent a massive change heading into the Monaco Grand Prix. The change seems to have worked well, at least for Lewis Hamilton, as the seven-time F1 champion has been performing at the highest level he has seen since the end of his 2021 title fight with Max Verstappen. In Mercedes’ seven races with the new car, Hamilton has finished inside the top four six times, even nabbing a pole position away from Max Verstappen and Red Bull at the Hungarian Grand Prix. With a driver pairing most thought would be extremely competitive, Hamilton has shown why many consider him the G.O.A.T., beating George Russell in all but one of those last seven races. Russell did finish ahead of Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix … by less than 0.8 seconds.
Hamilton’s good results have helped Mercedes climb into second in the Constructors’ Championship, holding a 51-point lead over Aston Martin and a 56-point lead over Ferrari. They have no chance of catching Red Bull at this point, but Mercedes could very well catch up with Aston Martin and Ferrari, which would allow Hamilton to push for second in the Drivers’ Championship. With Hamilton in fourth place and Mercedes trending up, Hamilton should be able to pass Fernando Alonso, who currently holds a razor thin one-point lead over him. That begs the question of whether or not Hamilton can he catch Sergio Perez. Perez has struggled mightily of late behind the wheel of his absolute rocket ship of a Red Bull, and Hamilton sits just 41 points behind him. With ten races left in the season, Hamilton could make a run at Perez for second, potentially ruining Red Bull’s hopes for their first ever 1-2 finish in the Drivers’ Championship.
F1 Look Ahead
With all the main headlines covered, it’s a great time to look ahead to what’s next in the Formula 1 season.
F1 returns from the summer break with back-to-back races, starting with the Dutch Grand Prix before wrapping up the European portion of the calendar with the Italian Grand Prix. After a weekend off, F1 hits another back-to-back, with the Singapore Grand Prix and the Japanese Grand Prix. Then, F1 heads to Qatar for the return of the Qatar Grand Prix, after skipping it in 2022 due to the World Cup. That will lead us to our next check-in point prior to the weekend of the U.S. Grand Prix.
The biggest thing to watch as we go forward is the situation currently going on at Alpine. Alpine has had some important figures leave their team under mysterious circumstances as of late. CEO Laurent Rossi, Team Principal Otmar Szafnaeur, and Sporting Director Alan Permane have left the team in recent weeks, and Chief Technical Officer Pat Fry will leave the team at the end of the season to join Williams.
Recent races have also not gone Alpine’s way, as they have scored only 14 points in the previous six Grand Prix, adding eight points in the last two sprint races. That stretch included back-to-back races in the British and Hungarian Grand Prix, where both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly failed to finish the race. With McLaren making a leap, Alpine are now stuck in no man’s land. They are clearly outside the top five, yet they aren’t a clear backmarker team. When the backmarker teams do actually score points, it lowers the chances of Alpine scoring even more.
Another thing of note for American viewers is the performance of Logan Sargeant, who is the only American driver on the grid. He has had his rookie struggles keeping up with teammate Alex Albon, but Sargeant has slowly improved, finishing 11th at the British Grand Prix and barely missing out on his first career points. With two more U.S. races this year, Sargeant could build some momentum before coming back stateside by nabbing his first career points. He is only on a one-year deal with Williams, so it would be great to see him score points and hopefully nail down the second seat at Williams for the 2024 season.
The last thing to watch will be the performances of both Ferrari and Aston Martin. Both teams have had their good races this year, and both teams have had their bad races. With McLaren’s emergence, both teams need to watch their backs to prevent McLaren from closing the gap. Ferrari finishing third or fourth behind Aston Martin in the Constructors’ Championship would be disappointing, but finishing fifth would be devastating. I still think Aston Martin looks at fourth place as a success, considering that they finished seventh in 2022. However, if Aston Martin falls off and is passed by McLaren, I believe their fifth place finish would be disappointing considering their strong start to the season.
That about wraps up my midseason check-in on Formula 1. I said this at the end of the quarter-season check-in, but I’ll say it again here. What makes F1 great is the battles all the way through the field. Despite Red Bull’s complete dominance at the front, there are always battles to watch elsewhere. Look for McLaren to have some great races, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton to succeed, Ferrari and Aston Martin to continue doing battle, and inferior teams like Williams, Haas, Alfa Romeo, and AlphaTauri to continue seeking points at every opportunity. The next five races should be fun, and I will be back to check in prior to the U.S. Grand Prix on the weekend of October 20-22.